Review: ‘Fighter’ (2024), starring Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone and Anil Kapoor

January 26, 2024

by Carla Hay

Deepika Padukone, Hrithik Roshan and Karan Singh Grover in “Fighter” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Fighter” (2024)

Directed by Siddharth Anand

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and in Pakistan, the action film “Fighter” features an Indian and Pakistani cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force battle against Pakistani terrorists led by a ruthless sadist.

Culture Audience: “Fighter” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of simple-minded and lengthy action movies that overload on jingoistic messages.

Rishabh Sawhney in “Fighter” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Fighter” has plenty of energetic action and musical numbers. There’s equal-opportunity eye candy. But it’s also awfully predictable and aggressively jingoistic. It looks like wartime propaganda and a very long recruitment ad for the Indian Air Force.

Directed by Siddharth Anand and written by Ramon Chibb, “Fighter” (which takes place in India and in Pakistan) rips off some elements of 2022’s “Top Gun: Maverick” and injects the movie with the cinematic version of steroids. “Fighter” knows that many of its action scenes are unrealistic. It knows that the way the hero zips in and out (and back again) of his military job completely misrepresents the real procedures in military protocol. That’s not the main problem with “Fighter.”

The main problem is that for a movie that is 166 minutes long, there is no real suspense. It’s just a series of high-octane fight scenes (the best part of the movie) with a predictable romance and a very sloppy subplot of the movie’s “hero” having career problems. After a while, it all becomes so formulaic and corny.

The jingoism in the movie also borders on xenophobia against Pakistan. The terrorists in “Fighter” happen to be from Pakistan, but there are parts of the film that make it look like Pakistan is to blame overall for much of the mayhem that ensues in the story. In the movie, all the Pakistani people with significant speaking roles are terrorists, which is a terrible and offensive stereotype.

The “hero” of the story is Shamsher “Patty” Pathania (played by Hrithik Roshan ), the squadron leader of his Indian Air Force team of fighter pilots. Patty (just like Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell character in the “Top Gun” movies) is a charming and handsome daredevil who often defies orders, which sometimes gets him into trouble and often frustrates and annoys his commanding officer. Patty reports to Rakesh “Rocky” Jai Sing (played by Anil Kapoor), a no-nonsense group captain who frequently reprimands Patty when Patty gets out of line and does something careless while on duty.

Patty’s obvious love interest is Minal “Minni” Rathore (played by Deepika Padukone), who is on the same fighter pilot team. Minni is strong and independent. Every time Patty tries to impress her, she acts like she doesn’t care. She doesn’t play hard to get with Patty because she actually is hard to get. Because “Fighter” is a completely predictable film, you can almost do a countdown to the parts of the movie were Patty and Minni have verbal disagreements when Minni tries to pretend that she’s not attracted to him, and then things happen that change her attitude toward him.

Minni has an emotional barrier around herself because she has a vulnerability that she doesn’t like to talk about: She is estranged from her parents Abhijeet Rathore (played by Ashutosh Rana) and Usha Rathore (played by Geeta Agrawal), because her airline executive father vehemently disapproves of her being in the Air Force as a pilot. Abhijeet thinks that women shouldn’t be in military combat, and he expects Minni to be a traditional wife and mother.

And it wouldn’t be typical action hero movie if the hero didn’t have some emotional pain too, usually because of a death of a loved one. In Patty’s case, he had a fiancée named Naina, nicknamed NJ (played by Seerat Mast, shown in flashbacks), who was a flight lieutenant in the Air Force. She died in a helicopter crash because of a decision that Patty made. Patty has been living with the guilt ever since. NJ’s relationship with one of Patty’s colleagues is revealed later in the movie. This revelation isn’t a complete surprise.

The other people on this Air Force team are squadron leader Sartaj “Taj” Gill (played by Karan Singh Grover), squadron leader Basheer “Bash” Khan (played by Akshay Oberoi), squadron leader Sukhdeep “Sukhi” Singh (played by Baveen Singh), Rajan “Unni” Unninathan (played by Mahesh Shetty), flying officer Manoj “Birdie” Bhardwaj (played by Nishan Khanduja) and wing commander Harish “Nauty” Nautiyal (played by Chandan K Anand). Along with Patty and Minni, they are all tight-knit and spend a lot of their free time with each other.

Unfortunately, everyone on the squad except Patty and Minni are utterly generic characters. It’s one of biggest failings of “Fighter,” which is trying desperately to be India’s version of “Top Gun: Maverick.” At least in the “Top Gun” movies, there are at least four fighter pilots who have personalities that viewers can tell apart from each other. That’s not the case with “Fighter.”

Meanwhile, the chief terrorist is Azhar Akhtar (played by Rishabh Sawhney), a muscular brute who does what terrorists do in movies like “Fighter.” When he’s not killing people with bombs, guns or other weapons, hate-filled Azhar snarls, stomps around, and yells at people. His personality is just a soulless void, as he says nothing that is memorable in “Fighter.”

How do you know that “Fighter” wants to be like the “Top Gun” movies, besides the airplane stunt scenes? Patty spends some of his time courting Minni by giving her rides on his motorcycle, just like Tom Cruise’s Maverick character does with his love interest in the “Top Gun” movies. Something happens to Patty as “punishment” for being reckless, and this plot development is straight out of “Top Gun: Maverick.”

To its credit, “Fighter” delivers some variety for people who don’t want to see fight scenes all of the time in an action movie. There’s some emotional drama, some romance, and the obligatory scenes of scantily clad Patty and Minni as they frolic on a beach or cavort in large groups during the movie’s song-and-dance numbers. The acting isn’t horrible, but neither is it great.

“Fighter” is sure to be a crowd-pleaser for many people in the movie’s intended audience. The movie obviously had a large budget for visual effects, some of which look dazzling and realistic, while some of the other visual effects look ridiculously fake. However well-intentioned the movie is in portraying Indian patriotism, it shouldn’t have to be at the expense of making another country look like the enemy when the two countries are not at war with each other in this story. “Fighter” just took the lazy way in telling this story, which comes across as a big-budget, derivative video game.

Viacom18 Studios released “Fighter” in U.S. cinemas and in India on January 25, 2024.

Review: ‘Animal’ (2023), starring Ranbir Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Bobby Deol, Rashmika Mandanna and Tripti Dimri

December 12, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ranbir Kapoor in “Animal” (Photo courtesy of AA Films)

“Animal” (2023)

Directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and in the United States, the action film “Animal” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A “bad boy” from a rich family gets into violent feuds with family members and other people. 

Culture Audience: “Animal” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and don’t mind watching long-winded movies with mindless plots and gory and excessive violence.

Cast members of “Animal.” Pictured sitting in front, from left to right: Adyaan Sachdeva, Suresh Oberoi and Ananya Bhati. Pictured standing in back, from left to right: Kalyan Vittapu, Siddhant Karnick, Saloni Batra, Anil Kapoor, Charu Shankar, Anshul Chauhan and Ranbir Kapoor. (Photo courtesy of AA Films)

Trashy, idiotic, and filled with disgusting bloody violence that’s overly repetitive, “Animal” is excruciatingly too long at about 200 minutes. This garbage movie has no redeeming qualities. It’s yet another stupid story about feuding and vengeful families. All of the acting performances are unimpressive. And to make things worse, by the end of this irritating dump of the movie, it’s obvious that it was made with a sequel in mind.

Written and directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, “Animal” has a very tiresome and over-used plot. A “rogue” goes on killing sprees to gain power and to avenge things that happened to his family. If a movie like this is done right, audiences will root for this anti-hero. But when the central character is an unrelenting jerk with no charm or wit, there’s no reason to care.

Unfortunately, “Animal” (which takes place primarily in India and in the United States) panders to the lowest and worst possible choices on how this story could have gone. The movie has several characters who are just empty vessels for the awful dialogue that they have to spew. And the plot twists (especially in the film’s mid-credits scene) are just too ridiculous to take.

The central character in this moronic mess is Ranvijay “Vijay” Singh (played by Ranbir Kapoor), who is the rebellious son of wealthy business mogul Balbir Singh (played by Anil Kapoor, no relation to Ranbir Kapoor). Balbir has inherited the Delhi-based company Swastik Steel, which he hopes to pass on to Vijay. Balbir, who is Swastik Steel’s CEO, is frustrated and worried that Vijay isn’t responsible enough to take over the company. Vijay’s history of getting into trouble has brought shame and scandal to the family.

The Singh family is a large clan that includes Balbir’s wife/Vijay’s mother Jyoti Singh (played by Charu Shankar), who is a typical “trophy wife” socialite. Vijay is the middle child with two siblings. Vijay’s older sister Reet Singh (played by Saloni Batra) is frequently embarrassed by Vijay. Vijay’s younger sister Roop Singh (played by Anshul Chauhan) is more tolerant of Vijay. Balbir is preoccupied with his work, so he often neglected his kids when they were growing up. This neglect is a touchy subject for Vijay, who has “daddy issues.”

Reet’s husband Varun Pratap Malhotra (played by Siddhant Karnick) is a high-ranking executive at Swastik Steel. Reet and Varun have two children: a son (played by Adyaan Sachdeva) and a daughter (played by Ananya Bhati). Other members of the family are Balbir’s father Rajdheer Dodamal Singh, nicknamed Dadaji (played by Suresh Oberoi) and Balbir’s mother Rani Kaur Singh, nicknamed Beeji (played by Madhu Raja), who don’t do much in the movie. Varun also has a brother (played by Kalyan Vittapu), who is a trusted confidant.

Near the beginning of the movie, Vijay is in his mid-20s, and the Singh family is attending the engagement party of a family friend named Gitanjali, nicknamed Gitu (played by Rashmika Mandanna), who has known Vjay since they were children and schoolmates. Vijay still has romantic feelings for Gitanjali, but this is his idea of a complimentary pickup line: At the party, he tells Gitanjali that she has a wide pelvis, which is ideal for giving birth.

Vijay and Varun get into an argument at the party. Vijay tells Reet not to interfere. Upset and mortified that Vijay is causing a scene, his father takes him aside to scold him: “I thought you had grown up!”

It turns out that Vijay has returned to India after being sent away to boarding school in the United States. Why was he sent away? When he was a teenager, Vijay found out that some guys in Reet’s college were bullying her. In response (which the movie shows as a flashback), Vijay showed up at the school with an AK-47 rifle, went to a classroom where he knew the bullies would be, and shot the gun in the classroom to “scare” the bullies. Luckily, no one was hurt or killed.

One can assume that Vijay didn’t spend any time in jail for this heinous crime because of his father’s money and power. One can also assume that it’s just a way for the “Animal” filmmakers to show unnecessary violence for violence’s sake. It’s just one of many examples in the movie that demonstrate how much of an unstable and loathsome jerk Vijay is.

Incredibly, Vijay is able to convince Gitanjali to break off her engagement after he confesses to her that he’s been in love with her for years. Gitanjali and Vijay quickly get engaged, and then they elope for their wedding by going to a remote mountaintop for the ceremony. They arrive by a private plane, with Vijay as the pilot and Gitanjali as the only passenger.

For their honeymoon, Vijay has arranged for a king-sized bed to be placed outdoors on the airstrip. He thinks it would be romantic for them to have sex outdoors on this bed. At first, Gitanjali is reluctant and self-conscious, but changes her mind when Vijay convinces her that no on else will see them.

Vijay and Gitanjali also have sex in the airplane. Later, Vijay plays Gitanjali the “black box” recording of them having sex. He thinks it’s hilarious that Gitanjali didn’t know that everything had been recording without her knowledge or consent.

At the 60th birthday party of Balbir, Vijay has another argument with Varun. This time, a fed-up Balbir kicks Vijay out of the party. In anger, Vijay decides that he and Gitanjali will move to the United States and become estranged from his family. Vijay and Gitanjali start their own family in the United States, where their son and daughter are born. But since Vijay is a narcissistic cretin, the marriage runs into major problems for exactly the reasons you think it does.

Vijay’s estrangement from his parents and other family members lasts for eight years. Vijay ends up back in India after Balbir is nearly assassinated. Vijay finds out that a rival named Asrar Haque (played by Babloo Prithiveeraj) was behind this murder plot. Asrar has a brother named Abrar Haque (played by Bobby Deol), who works with Asrar in their dirty deals. And you know what that means for someone like Vijay: He’s going on a revenge rampage.

“Animal” is a tangled slog of betrayals, murders, family feuds, near-death experiences, spying, look-alikes deceiving people, and a bizarre and unnecessary scene where Vijay parades around his estate naked after an unrealistic medical transformation. It’s all so mind-numbing and senseless. And although Vijay and Gitanjali are married for several years in the story, he treats her with such disrespect, the movie fails to convince that Vijay could love anyone but himself.

Violence is expected for most action movies, but the murders and torture in “Animal” are done with such sadistic glee, it will surely make some viewers feel sick. In “Animal,” it’s not enough for someone to get slashed or stabbed. The slashing or stabbing is shown as overkill, with the murderer having an evil smirk while getting soaked in the victim’s blood.

Toward the end of this soulless movie, “Animal” has one of the weirdest-looking showdown scenes you’ll ever see, with body contortions that would not be in a real fight. And it’s one of those “only in a movie” showdowns where henchmen thugs just stand around and watch instead of helping their leader. Viewers will despise “Animal” even more for how everything just gets dragged out for too long in this scene. People are tortured in the movie, but anyone who watches all of “Animal” experiences the torture of a horrible movie that is too long and takes itself too seriously.

AA Films released “Animal” in U.S. cinemas and in India on December 1, 2023.

Review: ‘Jugjugg Jeeyo,’ starring Varun Dhawan, Kiara Advani, Anil Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor

July 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured in center: Kiara Advani, Varun Dhawan, Anil Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor in “Jugjugg Jeeyo” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Jugjugg Jeeyo”

Directed by Raj Mehta 

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in Patiala, India (and briefly in Toronto and New York City), the comedy/drama film “Jugjugg Jeeyo” has a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married man and his parents experience marital problems around the same time, while people in the family juggle secrets and lies about their relationships.

Culture Audience: “Jugjugg Jeeyo” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Anil Kapoor and anyone who doesn’t mind watching jumbled movies that treat love and marriage as silly plot devices.

Tisca Chopra, Varun Dhawan and Anil Kapoor in “Jugjugg Jeeyo” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Jugjugg Jeeyo” plays so fast and loose with marital breakups and makeups, it loses all credibility. This comedy/drama has some eye-catching musical sequences, but the rest of the movie is just a jumbled mess of people who are flaky about marriage. The comedy wears thin very quickly, while the drama isn’t very engaging.

Directed by Raj Mehta, “Jugjugg Jeeyo” (which means “juggle live” in Hindi) has four people credited with writing the movie: Rishhabh Sharrma, Sumit Batheja, Anurag Singh and Neeraj Udhwani. Usually, when four or more people are credited with writing a movie screenplay, the movie suffers from “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome. That appears to be the case wtih “Jugjugg Jeeyo,” which throws in too many plot twists—and almost all these plot twists are not believable.

The movie is told from the perspective of Kuldeep “Kukoo” Saini (played by Varun Dhawan), a man who is floundering in his career and in his love life. In the beginning of the movie, life seems to be pretty good for Kukoo. In his hometown of Patiala, India, he has a dream wedding to Nainaa Sharma (played by Kiara Advani), in a marriage that was not arranged but is a love match. Kukoo and Nainaa’s courtship is never shown in the movie.

Five years later, Kukoo and Nainaa are living in Toronto, because Nainaa got a job as a business executive in an unnamed industry. Their marriage has hit a rut, mainly because they aren’t communicating well with each other, and Kukoo feels insecure about having a stalled career. Kukoo has a university degree in hotel management, but the only work he’s been able to find in Toronto is as a security bouncer/doorman at a nightclub. Needless to say, Kukoo hates his job.

To make matters worse, Nainaa has secretly accepted a job offer in New York City, but she hasn’t told Kukoo yet. For their five-year wedding anniversary, Kukoo and Nainaa have a tension-filled dinner at a restaurant. They begin arguing, and Kukoo announces that he wants a divorce.

Nainaa doesn’t seem surprised and seems to also want to get divorced. Things get worse on the car ride home. Nainaa is driving, another argument ensues, and she’s so distracted by this argument, she accidentally rear-ends a car in front of her. As for Nainaa’s decision to move to New York City, “Jugjugg Jeeyo” handles it in a clumsy way.

The couple’s decision to divorce comes at an inconvenient time because Kukoo and Nainaa are soon expected to go to Patiala to attend the wedding of Kukoo’s younger sister Ginny Saini (played by Prajakta Koli), who is having an arranged marriage. In order to not upset their families, and in order not to disrupt the wedding, Kukoo and Nainaa agree not to tell anyone about their impending divorce until after Ginny’s wedding. But in a movie like “Jugjugg Jeeyo,” you just know someone is going to break that agreement.

Ginny likes her soon-to-be-husband Balwinder (played by Savant Singh Premi), but she’s not in love with him. Ginny has unresolved feelings for an ex-boyfriend named Gourav (played by Varun Sood), who is still in love with Ginny. Gourav has been invited to the engagement party and wedding. You can easily predict what will happen in this awkward arrangement.

At the engagement party for Ginny and Balwinder, things get even more uncomfortable, as Kukoo and Nainaa try to pretend to everyone else that they’re happily married. However, Kukoo’s mother Geeta Saini (played by Neetu Kapoor) senses that something isn’t quite right about the relationship, and asks Kukoo if he and Nainaa are having marital problems. Kukoo denies any problems and tells his mother that he is happy.

As the engagement party is winding down, Kukoo and his father Bheem Saini (played by Anil Kapoor, no relation to Neetu Kapoor) have a drunken conversation where they confess to each other that they are both having marital problems. Kukoo tells Bheem that he and Nainaa are separated and are headed for divorce. Bheem says that he’s planning to divorce Geeta. Ginny is so oblivious to her parents’ marital woes that she later tells Kukoo that she has planned a surprise ceremony for their parents to renew their wedding vows.

Meanwhile, the preparations for Ginny and Balwinder’s wedding are often disrupted by Nainaa’s hard-partying brother Gurpreet Sharma (played by Manish Paul), who is a stereotypical loudmouth who will do anything to get attention and cause mischief. Gurpreet comes up with the idea to invite Bheem to Balwinder’s bachelor party. Gurpreet knows it’s unusual and inappropriate for a future father-in-law to be at his future son-in-law’s bachelor party, but Gurpreet doesn’t care.

It’s also an example of how Balwinder is kind of a pushover for letting someone else control the invitations to his own bachelor party. It’s all just a flimsy excuse for “Jugjugg Jeeyo” to have contrived situations where family members are put in embarrassing scenarios. And there will be more embarrassing scenarios to come, with the expected arguments and meltdowns.

It isn’t long before Kukoo finds out Bheem’s unhappiness in his marriage is more than just feeling alienated and bored. Bheem has had a secret life that will be exposed and will have the effect of an emotional bomb going off in the family. And his secret is the most obvious secret you can imagine.

One day, Kukoo and Bheem are watching a movie together in a theater when a woman sits next to Kukoo. Kukoo recognizes the woman as someone who was a teacher of his when he was in high school. Her name is Meera (played Tisca Chopra), and she re-introduces herself to Kukoo. They exchange pleasant talk before Bheem’s secret is revealed.

And then, Bheem tells Kukoo that Meera is Bheem’s mistress. Their affair has been going on long enough where it’s obvious that Bheem plans to go public about his relationship with Meera after Bheem gets a divorce. Kukoo is in shock, of course. He’s also angry at his father for this betrayal. (This isn’t spoiler information because it’s in the movie’s trailer.)

Bheem eventually tells the family that he’s going to divorce Geeta, who is devastated and feels even more humiliation when she finds out about Bheem’s affair with Meera. “Jugjugg Jeeyo” then takes a melodramatic detour when Bheem gets a heart attack, presumably from all the stress. This heart attack causes certain family members to feel sympathy for Bheem, as loyalties in the divorce start to shift. Eventually, more secrets come out, resulting in over-the-top reactions from certain family members.

“Jugjugg Jeeyo” starts off with some slightly amusing relationship scenarios, but the movie gets worse as it goes along. The biggest problem with the film is that it expects audiences to root for these characters to find love and happiness when many of these characters don’t really respect themselves or other people when it comes to finding true love and happiness. They treat marriage as something that they can discard and pick up like a set of clothes they want to wear when it’s convenient for them.

In other words, the breakups and makeups in this movie look very phony and unearned. The movie’s cast members do adequate jobs in their roles. The problem is that their characters are written and directed like they’re fools in a badly conceived movie that wants to be a soap opera and a sitcom at the same time, with some elaborate musical numbers thrown in as filler. Some viewers might enjoy the silliness of it all, but there’s nothing entertaining about watching adults acting this deceitful and stupid.

Viacom18 Studios released “Jugjugg Jeeyo” in select U.S. cinemas, in India and in several other countries on June 24, 2022.

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